June 17, 2009
Administration’s Actions Will Protect Same-Sex Partners, Opposite-Sex Partners, Children
Legislative Remedies Still Needed to Achieve Equal Status
Washington, DC – Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) applauds President Obama and Secretary Clinton for their actions in moving to extend benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners of federal employees, as well as children of those partners. President Obama’s announcement today follows earlier news reports that Secretary Clinton would soon expand the State Department’s definition of “Eligible Family Member” (EFM) to include same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners and their children. Presently, domestic partners are classified as “Members of Household” (MOHs), a term that denies critical protections to family members, including those separated from their employee partners who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Foreign Service Act of 1980 grants the Secretary of State exclusive authority to define the term EFM, and GLIFAA has pushed for years to update the definition of the term. GLIFAA also thanks Congresswoman Baldwin, Congressman Berman, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Ackerman, Senator Feingold, and Senator Wyden, who repeatedly wrote Secretary Rice and Secretary Clinton to remind them of the hardships facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) families serving overseas.
As soon as she took office, Secretary Clinton received a letter from over 2,200 current and former employees of the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies asking her to treat all families equally: “We question the logic of leaving same-sex partners to fend for themselves during an emergency evacuation of a high danger post. We are embarrassed when the Department will reimburse a variety of moving expenses, including the cost of transporting a pet, when an employee is assigned overseas, but will not do the same for a same-sex partner… Madam Secretary, we believe that no colleague of ours is a second-class colleague, and no colleague’s family is a second-class family.” Ninety-two percent (92%) of the letter’s signers did not have an MOH family member but signed because, like Secretary Clinton, they know that leaving families vulnerable and without diplomatic protections while in service to the U.S. Government abroad is wrong.
The impact of H1N1 influenza on one GLIFAA family highlighted the second-class status suffered by MOHs. In Mexico, tests confirmed that one Foreign Service Officer’s two sons had contracted H1N1. The Health Unit quickly sprang into action and gave Tamiflu to the children and to the employee father. However the Health Unit would not provide Tamiflu to the other father — even though it was unavailable locally — because he was an MOH, and not an EFM. It took the personal intervention of the Chargé d’Affaires before the Health Unit took this basic public health measure. Once regulations are revised based on the administrations guidance, no Embassy children will have to watch their parents bear this discrimination again, because all family members will have access to Tamiflu when medically appropriate.
“The actions of the President and the Secretary will have a real and immediate benefit for Foreign Service families, but work remains to be done,” said GLIFAA President J. Michelle Schohn. “LGBT Foreign Service, Civil Service, and contract personnel serve their country domestically and at U.S. Embassies and Missions around the world, including some of the most challenging posts in Afghanistan and Iraq. GLIFAA believes that families that defend our nation are families that the U.S. Government must support, and we will continue working with our straight colleagues, our President, our Secretary, and our Members of Congress to achieve workplace fairness.”
GLIFAA endorses the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (H.R. 2517, lead sponsor: Congresswoman Baldwin and S. 1102, lead sponsor: Senator Lieberman) and the Uniting American Families Act (H.R. 1024, lead sponsor: Congressman Nadler and S. 424, lead sponsor: Senator Leahy). The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act would extend equal benefits and protections — including those related to pensions, access to health insurance, and family medical leave — to the same-sex partners of U.S. federal government personnel.
The Uniting American Families Act would allow LGBT Americans the right to sponsor their partners for immigration in the same manner allowed to married heterosexual partners. Many heterosexual employees in the Foreign Service meet their future spouses while serving overseas, but GLIFAA members with foreign partners cannot live in the United States again unless they leave their partner behind. This injustice is particularly cruel to retirees who, after a lifetime of service to their nation, must find an alternate country that will allow them to live with their partners.
“We’re proud that once again GLIFAA’s actions have not only benefited LGBT staff but the entire Foreign Service community. We will continue our cooperation with other marginalized communities and with other employee associations in foreign affairs agencies to strive for greater workplace equity,” said GLIFAA Policy Director Ajit Joshi. “On Capitol Hill, DPBO and UAFA will be GLIFAA’s priorities because they affect the greatest number of our families. We also support the President’s stated goal of a full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which continues to be used to harm families of those who serve. Finally, we also call on President Obama and Congress to recognize our brothers and sisters who serve alongside us in uniform, and to allow them to serve with dignity and honesty.”
GLIFAA, officially recognized by the U.S. State Department, represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) personnel and their families in the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Foreign Commercial Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, and other foreign affairs agencies and offices in the U.S. Government. Founded in 1992 by fewer than a dozen employees who faced official harassment simply because of their sexual orientation, GLIFAA continues to seek equality and fairness for LGBT employees and their families.